“The military can’t do anything other than provide manpower to clean beaches or string up nets, and that manpower can come from anywhere,” said Dakota Wood, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.
Wood said Americans are eager to call in the troops in times of domestic crisis, relying on the military to offer security or resources that aren’t readily available. Because the oil spill hasn’t created problems with looting or power outages, for example, he said there is no particular need for military support — other than as a ready source of manpower.
“Folks just want it fixed, and when you wanted something fixed, there’s a knee-jerk reaction to call in the military,” he said.
In June, CBS News reported that Jindal had deployed a little more than 1,000 of the 6,000 National Guardsmen made available by the Defense Department with costs covered by BP.
“We spend more time fighting red tape and bureaucracy than we ever should have to if the federal government understood this oil spill as the war that it is,” Jindal said in a statement.
Looking at the four Gulf states, Louisiana’s number of deployed Guardsmen was relatively high. Mississippi had deployed just 58 of its 6,000, according to CBS.
Without a clear need for the National Guard’s capabilities, Wood said cleaning up BP’s mess in the Gulf is better left to private labor with specialized training.
“It’s an extremely technically challenging problem, and the companies that can actually do this are BP, Shell and maybe just a handful of others,” he said.
Michael O’Hanlon, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the federal government overestimated BP’s ability to manage the spill.
“That judgment that the private sector should be expected to take the lead on this is the primary problem,” O’Hanlon said.
Accusations about underutilization of the National Guard struck a nerve with Jindal five years after the response to Hurricane Katrina sparked similar questions.
In 2005, the Department of Defense approved about 50,000 members of the National Guard to respond to Hurricane Katrina, but there were gaps between the responsibilities of the states and the federal government. Some states initially delayed requesting troops, likely contributing to the state of chaos in which New Orleans was looted and residents died waiting for medical attention.
Among other problems, the government did not consider past crises in shaping its military response plans before Katrina, according to a 2006 report from the Government Accountability Office, the congressional investigatory agency.
“Without detailed plans to address these factors, [Defense] and the federal government risk being unprepared for the next catastrophe,” the GAO reported.
But Wood said the latest Gulf crisis would not have been alleviated by following the GAO’s recommendations to improve military planning and training for domestic crises after Hurricane Katrina.
“The thing is, looking at the Gulf spill, what is it that you would want the military to do under those circumstances?” he said. “The problem is 5,000 feet under the surface of the ocean. The military does not have the capability to deal with that problem.”